Skip to main content

Newtown survivors, choose faith, charity and hope

By Liz Carlston, Special to CNN
December 30, 2012 -- Updated 1428 GMT (2228 HKT)
Mourners wipe tears away as they file out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the funeral of Emilie Parker in Ogden, Utah, on Saturday, December 22. Mourners wipe tears away as they file out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the funeral of Emilie Parker in Ogden, Utah, on Saturday, December 22.
HIDE CAPTION
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Liz Carlston: My heart aches for the children and parents at Sandy Hook
  • Carlston: I went through the Columbine shooting and know the pain
  • She says life won't be the same for the survivors; it's important to push out the anger
  • Carlston: Choose faith, choose charity, choose hope; then, life will be livable again

Editor's note: Liz Carlston is the author of "Surviving Columbine: How Faith Helps Us Heal When Tragedy Strikes." She is compiling a book with other Columbine survivors for the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If you'd like to help with the project, you can contact her at: carlston33@yahoo.com.

(CNN) -- My heart aches for the children, parents and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Like them, I know what it means to have life turned on its head by unprecedented violence. On the morning of April 20, 1999, two senior students walked into Columbine High School and began a shooting spree. Someone pulled the fire alarm and I was able to escape my trigonometry classroom. While I didn't suffer any injury, people I knew and admired were killed. That awful day left a permanent scar on our community in Littleton, Colorado.

But the Columbine shooting did not define us. We are defined by the acts of goodness that followed. People in our community bonded and helped each other get through the tragedy.

Liz Carlston
Liz Carlston

Hundreds of comfort quilts were sewed and handed out to those who were trying to recover from the anguish and pain. Restaurants provided free meals in the days after the shooting. Strangers offered hugs to each other at the Clement Park Memorial for support.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



No one ever should experience a Columbine moment. No one wants to feel assaulted, offended or hurt by an inexplicable event. But sometimes, those things happen.

The way we respond to those moments is crucial in how we build and rebuild our relationships, and more importantly, how we rebuild our lives.

'We should talk about our children'
One week later: 'Newtown is rallying'
Showing Newtown they're not alone

There are two ways we can respond to a traumatic experience -- as a victim or a survivor. Early on, I pitifully used Columbine to justify personal failures and shortcomings. Eventually, I realized that I owned the way I reacted to situations and how I engaged with those around me.

More than a decade later, I still think about Columbine. I do not dwell on the grotesque details of the day. In quiet meditation, I think of the lives that were taken and the lessons that help me move forward. I appreciate the subtle and profound consequences that our thoughts and actions can have on others. I became slower to anger and quicker to love. The inconsiderate driver or long line at the post office doesn't spoil my day anymore.

I share my story to offer hope to those impacted by violence -- those who wonder whether they'll be able to regain the life they once knew. The answer is no. Life won't be the same. But one can, over time, find happiness. When you are able to come out of a tragedy you'll be stronger with a greater capacity to love, more determination to serve others and desire to mend broken family ties. And you'll feel joy that comes from these actions.

To those who are wading through a mountain of pain and sorrow right now, please know that it will be OK. Take time to grieve your loss. Talk through your feelings, even if it's no more than ramblings. Live your life in a way that honors the memory of the precious lives that were taken. Push out the anger and fill your mind with a positive outlook. I promise this approach will bring more peace and joy.

There may be some people who are angry at God. I was not. In Columbine's aftermath, my faith was an essential part of my healing process. There's a scripture passage that I take comfort in:

Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, the design of your God concerning those things which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings.

I believe in God and trust that He has a plan for our lives. His added measure of strength always comes at the moment when we've exhausted our best effort. When tragedies like Columbine or Sandy Hook happen, we are reminded of the fragility and precious nature of life. This gives rise to the question, what will you do with the time you have?

Choose faith, choose charity, choose hope. Then, life will be livable again.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Liz Carlston.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT